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Fantasy follow-up: Week 18

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Relegation candidates

Much of the talk last season was how the top of the Premier League had finally opened up, with Tottenham breaking into the top four and Manchester City and Aston Villa both relegating traditional 'Big Four' power Liverpool into seventh. But the concertina affect also reached the bottom of the table, as seven clubs failed to reach 40 points; the most to fall short of that mark in the history of the Premier League.

It seems the days of 40 points being the fairytale figure needed to guarantee survival are over. The reality is that 35 points - enough for West Ham to stay up last season - will likely be sufficient to avoid relegation in 2010-11.

As per usual, the three teams promoted from the Championship are widely tipped to drop straight back down, but Newcastle, West Brom and Blackpool can take heart from the efforts of Wolves and Birmingham in 2009-10. Alex McLeish's side can continue where they left off last season and cement their status as a mid-table outfit thanks to some smart acquisitions, but their Midlands neighbours West Brom and Wolves may not fare so well.

A lack of firepower was Mick McCarthy's biggest problem in the last campaign - his second highest scorer was centre-back Jody Craddock with five goals - and he has attempted to rectify the problem by bringing striker Steven Fletcher and winger Stephen Hunt to Molineux. Both players will be hoping to avoid successive relegations having dropped out of the league with Burnley and Hull respectively last season, but despite adding some much-needed attacking flair to help out the hard-working Kevin Doyle, a lack of strength in depth will see Wolves struggle at the wrong end of the table again.

Fellow Black Country side West Brom have become accustomed to the tag of "yo-yo" club in recent years, and with another exponent of attractive football at the helm in Roberto Di Matteo, the Baggies risk going the same way as Tony Mowbray's 2009 vintage, who were relegated chiefly because of their unwillingness to stray away from a brand of the game big on expansive passing, but tempered by defensive frailty. The departure of Robert Koren has left the fans feeling a little reticent, though Graham Dorrans' decision to sign a new contract leaves them with some hope that Di Matteo can repeat the achievement of Bryan Robson by keeping the club in the Premier League.

Ahead of West Brom in the second tier last season were Newcastle United, and Magpies fans have now awoken from their nightmare to find themselves back in the familiar surroundings of the top flight. But despite coasting to the Championship title last season and having by far the best infrastructure of any of the promoted teams - including, of course, guaranteed attendances of more than 50,000 at St James' Park - they can take nothing for granted.

The off-field problems that haunted them during the ill-fated 2008-09 season, appear to have subsided and Chris Hughton has done a truly admirable job of keeping most of that squad together - with the likes of Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan determined to prove they can still cut it in the Premier League. But with Newcastle likely to be too reliant on Andy Carroll's ability to replicate his prolific goalscoring form of last season, another relegation dogfight looms.

In stark contrast to a Newcastle squad looking relatively well-equipped, Premier League debutants Blackpool face a battle of epic proportions to not only survive in the top flight, but to avoid emulating or even usurping Derby as the worst team in the competition's history. With just 20 players forming the bare bones of Ian Holloway's playing personnel, his much-vaunted man-management skills will be put to the ultimate test as he attempts to inspire the Tangerines to perform even further above their station than they did to win the play-off final in May. Brett Ormerod and Jason Euell offer some distant Premier League previous but it is the form of Charlie Adam - who spearheaded their escape from the Championship - that will be key if Blackpool are to avoid being whipping boys.

The Jekyll and Hyde team of 2009-10, Wigan, were at times amazing, with victories over Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool particular highlights, but too often awful - a 9-1 hammering by Spurs the most obvious example. It could well be more of the same again as Roberto Martinez has lost stalwarts Paul Scharner and Mario Melchiot, though he appears to have landed (on paper) one of the transfer coups of the summer with the arrival of prolific Estudiantes striker Mauro Boselli. Replacing gaffe-prone Titus Bramble with Paraguay World Cup defender Antolin Alcaraz also seems like an inspired move but the fortunes of South Americans in England have been mixed in the past. Martinez will be hoping his new players bed in quickly, but if there is no immediate rapport then the Latics will be involved in a relegation battle again.

Many felt that Stoke would be found out last season after their effective combination of smart passing football, physicality and human missile-launcher Rory Delap surprised many teams in their debut campaign. But the Potters continued to defy expectations, recording a second successive mid-table finish. This time around, however, Stoke may find that their Premier League honeymoon is over. Overly reliant on Matthew Etherington for creativity and with the dressing-room problems of last season still hanging over the squad because of Tony Pulis' failure to offload James Beattie and Tuncay, Stoke still lack strength in depth - especially in defence where injuries to Ryan Shawcross or Robert Huth would leave them struggling badly. With no notable new faces at the Britannia either, Stoke will find themselves scrapping for survival.

Owen Coyle managed to avoid having the unfavourable distinction of taking two teams down in one season after keeping Bolton in the top flight last term, and his astute additions at the Reebok - including Martin Petrov, Marcos Alonso and the returning Ivan Klasnic - give his side a great chance of staying up again. But up until May 2011, expect the Trotters to be well acquainted with the bottom half of the Premier League table.

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